Friday, July 1, 2011

Update 07-01-2011:Nuclear Danger In America. Americans At Danger By Their Own Nuclear Power Plants...What if the dam breaks!

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Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota

The World-Herald

Nuke query: What if dam breaks?

By Nancy Gaarder
World-Herald Staff Writer
Federal regulators want to make certain Nebraska's flood-threatened nuclear reactors have adequate safety measures in place if a dam breaks upstream, so they have asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its latest analyses on the risks of dam failure.
Six dams constituting one of the nation's largest reservoir systems sit above Fort Calhoun and Cooper Nuclear Stations.
The corps is sending record runoff through the dams, and the consequences for Missouri River communities include broken levees, inundated homes and businesses, submerged highways and threatened power plants.
The Fort Calhoun reactor, taken off-line for maintenance in early April, remains idled because of flooding. The plant has water about 2½ feet high around its buildings. Cooper, which was built on higher ground, remains in operation, but also faces tests.
The NRC's division director of reactor safety, Anton Vegel, requested the dam analysis Wednesday from the district commander of the corps, Col. Robert Ruch, according to a copy of the letter The World-Herald obtained Thursday.

Victor Dricks, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the public should not construe the request as an indication of particular worry by the NRC or “inside knowledge” about the dams.

“It is part of an ongoing effort to look at all the information that could possibly impact those two plants,” he said. “We want to make sure we're completely up to date. We're constantly asking questions of (Fort Calhoun and Cooper) and of ourselves: Is there new information? Is there additional information we need to be looking at?”

Over the weekend, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, toured Cooper and Calhoun. Jaczko also met with Ruch, corps personnel and the utilities that operate the reactors. The Omaha Public Power District owns Fort Calhoun, which is about 20 miles north of Omaha; the Nebraska Public Power District owns Cooper, about 70 miles south of town.

The plants were built about 40 years ago.

In 2009 and 2010, the Corps of Engineers updated its breach analyses of the six dams as part of a nationwide response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Prior to that, the last analyses would have dated to the late 1980s and early 1990s, said Monique Farmer, a corps spokeswoman.

OPPD last updated its own look at flood effects from a dam breach in 2000 at Fort Calhoun. NPPD did so in 2001 for Cooper. Both utilities examined the possibility of dam failures on top of an already flooded river. However, NPPD analyzed a much larger dam failure than OPPD, based on utility documents filed with the NRC.

OPPD's 2000 analysis considered the failure of Fort Randall Dam, the system's fourth largest, while NPPD also studied a failure at Oahe Dam, the system's second largest.

Both utilities concluded their protections were adequate.

NPPD and OPPD declined to comment Thursday on the NRC's request.

David Lochbaum, director of nuclear safety for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the good news is that the corps' analyses are recent, so the NRC will have much more current information to act upon. Lochbaum is among the people Congress turns to with questions about nuclear reactor safety.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the nation's dam breach analyses are no longer available to the public.

“Prior to 9/11 we probably would have released this, yes,” said John Remus of the corps. “Dam breach scenarios involve extremely high flows — much higher than we're experiencing now. ... We're not in fear of losing our dams, so this is not information that we need to share.”

What is extraordinary about the current situation is not so much the height of the water behind the dams but the amount of water being flushed from the reservoirs, said John Bertino, head of dam safety for the corps' Omaha district. 

Looking at the latest news on the nuclear dangers that are currently here in the United States, I think back to when I was worried about the radiation coming from the Fukushima coming to the U.S...umf!  Why was I so worried about that?  Now we have our own nuclear issues to deal with.  One nuclear plant issue is due to flood and one is due to fire.  But, don't...don't...don't...don't panic!  Here is the information....

Three U.S. Nuke Plants At Risk To Wildfire And Floods

By Kenneth R. Bazinet

Anti-nuclear activists are having the biggest “We told you so moment” since the earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors earlier this spring as Mother Nature puts scare intro three U.S. nuclear facilities.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico will be closed for a second day today as a raging wildfire remains a threat, while floodwaters from the Missouri River are keeping two nuclear power plants under siege in Nebraska.

As of now authorities in both states say the natural disasters do no pose a threat to the public at any of the three nuclear facilities.

About 12,000 people have been evacuated from the area surrounding Los Alamos nuclear weapons testing and developments facility since Sunday, authorities said. The site was home to the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb in 1945.

“No other fires are currently burning on lab property, no facilities face immediate threat, and all nuclear and hazardous materials are accounted for and protected,” the Los Alamos National Laboratory  said in a statement.

The combination of brisk winds and scorching hot weather are the main concerns at this point  for firefighters battling the blaze around the lab.

The Las Conchas fire burned across nearly 44,000 acres and came within about a mile from the lab last night. A one-acre spot fire ignited on  lab land, but was knocked down by airborne firefighters, CNN reported.

“Air crews dumped water at the site within the Lab’s Technical Area 49 and brought the blaze under control,” a statement from the lab said.

In Nebraska, workers at the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant raised catwalks to access the facility after two feet of  water surrounded the site. The floodwater has not reached any radioactive materials, the utility company said. An 8-foot temporary berm protecting the plant collapsed over the weekend.

“There is no possibility of a meltdown,” the Omaha Public Power District’s CEO Gary Gates told The Associated Press. “The floodwaters are outside of Fort Calhoun, not inside.”

The biggest threat is a loss of power that would keep the plants from cooling the nuclear materials, triggering a meltdown, as was the case in Japan.  There are at least nine backup power sources in place in Nebraska, including two diesel generators.

The other threat to public safety are lies and deceptions, as was also the case in Japan as the utility company’s executives continuously lowballed the thereat of radioactivity.

“Not everything is fine,” said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s energy program. “We’re inches away from a nuclear plant being flooded. It’s already an island. And we still have a very real possibility of flood levels rising.”

Slocum told The Progressive, “There’s always the possibility of the situation escalating, especially when we don’t control all the variables. That’s what happened in Japan.”

Floodwaters are slowly creeping toward the Cooper nuclear power  plant, but that facility sits on higher ground and the wrath of Missouri River so far is being kept at bay.
 Read more from Kenneth R. Bazinet at The Baz File

Fire Outside Los Alamos Lab Poses 'Low' Risk to Nuclear Waste: Fire Chief

The Albuquerque Journal reports on a press conference an hour ago in which authorities fighting the raging blaze downplayed the risk of the fire striking a huge cache of nuclear waste stored onsite.
The chance of flames from the Las Conchas fire reaching plutonium and chemical waste stored in Los Alamos National Laboratory's Area G waste site is low, Los Alamos fire chief Doug Tucker said at a news conference this afternoon. And even if the flames do approach, the waste is stored in an area cleared of vegetation and protected by fire teams, officials said.
The tens of thousands of drums stored outdoors under protective covers has been a central concern for anti-nuclear activists who have long complained about the risks of Area G.
Sharing in this view is antinuclear activist Jay Coghlan, who is quoted in the Journal's story.
A spokesperson for the lab, Kevin Rourke, told ScienceInsider this afternoon that no new fires have been detected on lab property since officials extinguished a 1-acre blaze yesterday afternoon.

AP IMPACT: NRC and industry rewrite nuke history
ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) — When commercial nuclear power was getting its start in the 1960s and 1970s, industry and regulators stated unequivocally that reactors were designed only to operate for 40 years. Now they tell another story — insisting that the units were built with no inherent life span, and can run for up to a century, an Associated Press investigation shows.
By rewriting history, plant owners are making it easier to extend the lives of dozens of reactors in a relicensing process that resembles nothing more than an elaborate rubber stamp.
As part of a yearlong investigation of aging issues at the nation's nuclear power plants, the AP found that the relicensing process often lacks fully independent safety reviews. Records show that paperwork of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission sometimes matches word-for-word the language used in a plant operator's application.
Also, the relicensing process relies heavily on such paperwork, with very little onsite inspection and verification.
And under relicensing rules, tighter standards are not required to compensate for decades of wear and tear.
So far, 66 of 104 reactors have been granted license renewals. Most of the 20-year extensions have been granted with scant public attention. And the NRC has yet to reject a single application to extend an original license. The process has been so routine that many in the industry are already planning for additional license extensions, which could push the plants to operate for 80 years, and then 100.
Regulators and industry now contend that the 40-year limit was chosen for economic reasons and to satisfy antitrust concerns, not for safety issues. They contend that a nuclear plant has no technical limit on its life.
But an AP review of historical records, along with interviews with engineers who helped develop nuclear power, shows just the opposite: Reactors were made to last only 40 years. Period.
The record also shows that a design limitation on operating life was an accepted truism.
In 1982, D. Clark Gibbs, chairman of the licensing and safety committee of an early industry group, wrote to the NRC that "most nuclear power plants, including those operating, under construction or planned for the future, are designed for a duty cycle which corresponds to a 40-year life."
And three years later, when Illinois Power Co. sought a license for its Clinton station, utility official D.W. Wilson told the NRC on behalf of his company's nuclear licensing department that "all safety margins were established with the understanding of the limitations that are imposed by a 40-year design life."
One person who should know the real story is engineering professor Richard T. Lahey Jr., at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. Lahey once served in the nuclear Navy. Later, in the early 1970s, he helped design reactors for General Electric Co.; he oversaw safety research and development.
Lahey dismisses claims that reactors were made with no particular life span. "These reactors were really designed for a certain lifetime," he said. "What they're saying is really a fabrication."
Relicensing is a lucrative deal for operators. By the end of their original licenses, reactors are largely paid for. When they're operating, they're producing profits. They generate a fifth of the country's electricity.
New ones would each cost billions of dollars and take many years for approval, construction and testing. Local opposition may be strong. Already there is controversy about the safety of a next-generation design. Even before the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex in Japan, only a handful of proposed new reactors in the U.S. had taken the first steps toward construction.
Solar and wind power are projected to make very limited contributions as electrical demand rises about 30 percent by 2035. So keeping old plants operating makes good business sense.
But it's challenging to keep existing plants safe and up to date.
The NRC has indicated that safety improvements are likely in the aftermath of melted fuel in the Japanese reactors in March. NRC inspectors have found some problems with U.S. equipment and procedures. But the agency says all sites are ready to deal with earthquakes and flooding. The NRC also has formed a task force to investigate further and report back in July. Both the task force and the NRC chairman have already suggested that changes will be needed.
Meanwhile, license renewals, which began in 2000, continue. The process essentially requires a government-approved plan to manage wear. These plans entail more inspection, testing and maintenance by the operator, but only of certain equipment viewed as subject to deterioration over time.
The plans focus on large systems like reactor vessels. It is assumed that existing maintenance is good enough to keep critical smaller parts — cables, controls, pumps, motors — in good working order for decades more.
Some modernization has been put in place — upgrades on fire-prevention measures and electronic controls, for example. But many potential improvements are limited by the government's so-called "backfit rule." The provision exempts existing units from safety improvements unless such upgrades bring "a substantial increase" in public protection.
Even with required maintenance, aging problems keep popping up.
During its Aging Nukes investigation, the AP conducted scores of interviews and analyzed thousands of pages of industry and government records, reports and data. The documents show that for decades compromises have been made repeatedly in safety margins, regulations and emergency planning to keep the aging units operating within the rules. The AP has reported that nuclear plants have sustained repeated equipment failures, leading critics to fear that the U.S. industry is one failure away from a disaster.
Despite the aging problems, relicensing rules prohibits any overall safety review of the entire operation. More conservative safety margins are not required in anticipation of higher failure rates in old plants, regulators acknowledge.
The approach has turned relicensing reviews into routine approvals.
"Everything I've seen is rubber-stamped," said Joe Hopenfeld, an engineer who worked on aging-related issues at the NRC before retiring in 2008. He has since worked for groups challenging relicensing.

Los Alamos nuclear laboratory under siege from raging wildfire

One thousand firefighters are battling to contain wildfires raging on the edges of America’s premier nuclear weapons laboratory.

Fires rage at the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory.
By Nick Allen, Los Angeles
The vast nuclear complex at Los Alamos, New Mexico is under siege from a blaze which reached to within two miles of where 30,000 drums of Cold War-era plutonium-contaminated waste are sitting in the open.
Flames extended to an area of 95 square miles and at one point reached within 50ft of the nuclear laboratory’s grounds, just across a road. All 11,000 residents of the nearby city of Los Alamos have been evacuated.
The Los Alamos site was the birthplace of the atomic bomb in the 1940s and still maintains America’s biggest nuclear arsenal.
Officials have said there is no risk of contaminated material getting into the giant smoke plume rising over the area.
But they have stepped up efforts to monitor radiation levels in the air, using 60 monitors. The Environmental Protection Agency also deployed a special plane to test the air at higher levels.
...Elsewhere, authorities have voiced concerns about floods in Nebraska, where a nuclear plant’s parking lot is under water....
About 46 per cent of the US has been abnormally wet or dry this spring. Severe weather is usually recorded in 21 per cent of the country, Mr Masters said. “If you weren’t floating away in floods, you were baking in the heat.”

Midland, in west Texas, has received 4mm of rain since the start of the year, a fraction of the 101mm it would normally receive, the National Weather Service said.

There are black patches of grass outside the city, where wildfires have taken hold. As of July 1, the city will permit citizens to water their lawns just two days a week, with fines of up to $500 for violators.

Producers have been heavily watering pecans, alfalfa and coastal Bermuda grass. “But with the dry, windy conditions, they couldn’t make much headway,” said the Texas Crop Weather Report on west Texas. Since November, the Texas Forest Service and area fire departments have responded to 12,779 fires that have burnt 1.33m hectares. The “extreme risk of wildfire’’ remains.

Hundreds of people have died in tornadoes, while many have lost homes or livelihoods in this year’s disasters. “The human losses, we can’t even speak to that,” says John-Michael Riley, a professor in the department of agricultural economics at Mississippi State University.

But he has made a tally of economic losses – up to $500m for Mississippi alone and up to $1.5bn for the mid-south region, which includes Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and east Tennessee. “There is still a lot of uncertainty about what the final tally will be,’’ Mr Riley says.
Such losses tend to be short term, said Bernard Weinstein, business economics professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Insurance money and state assistance can serve as an economic stimulus.

New Orleans, for example, received billions of dollars in assistance and insurance funding after hurricane Katrina. “There is a $15,000bn economy in the US,” Mr Weinstein said. “We are able to absorb those types of hits.”

But if the kind of extreme weather witnessed recently becomes the norm, this might change.
“It is highly improbable that the remarkable extreme weather events of 2010 and 2011 could have all happened in such a short period of time without some powerful climate-altering force at work,” he said.

“I expect that by 20 to 30 years from now, extreme weather years like we witnessed in 2010 will become the new normal.”

Are you prepared in case of emergency?  Do you have water storage?  Do you have rotating food storage?  Do you have 72 hour kits for each member of your family/household?  Do you have a family emergency plan in the case of any emergency...i.e., fire, tornado, flood, earthquake, or any other disaster and/or emergency?  It's much better to prepare ahead of time rather than waiting until the emergency happens.  Waiting until the emergency happens to prepare is a disaster in-and-of itself.  So, it's time to prepare right now!!!  Don't wait!!!!

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